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Plans for old hotel in Nanaimo advance despite Snuneymuxw’s opposition

More than 750 residential units planned at former Howard Johnson site
A re-zoning application for the old Howard Johnson Harbourside Hotel in downtown Nanaimo passed third reading following a public hearing Thursday, April 18. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)

A major downtown Nanaimo development plan has made it through the public hearing process for a third time, despite opposition from Snuneymuxw First Nation.

A re-zoning application for the former Howard Johnson Harbourside Hotel property at Terminal Avenue and Comox Road passed third reading Thursday, April 18, following a public hearing.

Strongitharm Consulting Ltd., on behalf of the land owners, is proposing a mixed-use residential, commercial and hotel development, with more than 750 housing units planned in a mix of buildings ranging from five-storey complexes to 16-storey highrises.

The City of Nanaimo received six written submissions related to the re-zoning application, with three opposed, two in favour and one neither for nor against.

A submission signed by Snuneymuxw Chief Mike Wyse noted that the First Nation stands by its 1854 treaty rights, but also has specific concerns regarding ecological sensitivities at the mouth of the Millstone River and perceived failures on the part of the applicant to address the site’s archaeological significance and historical context.

The chief’s letter suggests that contrary to city staff’s view, the applicant’s proposed park upgrades will fail to provide a net environmental improvement and will instead damage a sensitive area.

“It would seem that the applicant has succeeded in dictating an absurd situation … justifying a detrimental environmental impact by calling it a [community amenity contribution],” Wyse wrote.

As well, Snuneymuxw engaged a resource management consultant to review the applicant’s archaeological impact assessment and registered “significant concerns” with that process and plans to construct underground parking.

As for historical context, the chief wrote that the applicant not only fails to recognize the site’s cultural and historical importance, but also appears to ignore entirely the site’s pre-colonial history.

“The applicant is being provided with total flexibility as to how the site may be developed, taking into account only the applicant’s commercial interests,” Wyse wrote. “There are much better ways in which a development on this site could address and incorporate the site’s Indigenous history in ways that would improve the residential and commercial character.”

A City of Nanaimo staff report last year noted that the city recognizes that the hotel property may have been part of the Sxwayxum village site “and that the First Nation may be seeking compensation for the loss of the village site,” but added that adopting a re-zoning bylaw wouldn’t preclude the city from supporting that effort.

“The city is bound by the Local Government Act to consider applications from fee simple owners of properties, irrespective of claims of title and rights in relation to those properties by First Nations,” the report noted.

A separate City of Nanaimo report presented to council last week noted that in staff’s opinion, the proposed re-zoning and associated land-use bylaws are consistent with city plan policies.

READ ALSO: Re-development plan for downtown Nanaimo property going to another public hearing

READ ALSO: Nanaimo city council defers decision to re-zone former Howard Johnson site

About the Author: Greg Sakaki

I have been in the community newspaper business for two decades, all of those years with Black Press Media.
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